Last Sunday I published an interview with Muse in the Observer. I asked Matt Bellamy to define his politics because I was intrigued by the way that the band’s album The Resistance, and in particular the song Uprising, had been embraced by Glenn Beck, the Tea Party and right-wing libertarians in the US, when I assumed that the lyrics came from a more left-wing angle. For example, new song Animals is a ferocious attack on predatory capitalism which has more in common with Occupy Wall Street than it does with the small-government, free-market values of the libertarian right: “Amortise/Downsize/Lay off/Kill yourself/Come on do us all a favour.”
He explained (quote taken unedited from the original transcript): “In the US the conspiracy theory subculture has been hijacked by the right to try to take down people like Obama and put forward right-wing libertarianism, which is very popular in America. I’d define myself as a left-leaning libertarian – more in the realm of Noam Chomsky. Because some of the songs talk about the strength of the human spirit, that can easily be adopted by libertarians of any persuasion. I think libertarians in America don’t realise there are different ways of being a libertarian. It doesn’t all have to be about guns and land protection, y’know? So yeah, I do find it weird. Uprising was requested by so many politicians in America for use in their rallies and we turned them down on a regular basis.”
I just received an email from Glenn Beck’s PR with an open letter to Bellamy. I’m no fan of Beck — in the piece I describe him as a “swivel-eyed Fox News demagogue” – but I found it interesting that he’d responded and thought it was worth posting the letter here:
I read your comments in the Guardian via Rolling Stone last week and feel like with a little work we could better understand each other.
As uncomfortable as it might be for you, I will still play your songs loudly. To me your songs are anthems that beg for choruses of unity and pose the fundamental question facing the world today – can man rule himself?
In the Venn Diagram of American politics, where the circles of crimson and blue overlap, there’s a place where you and I meet. It’s a place where guys who cling to their religion, rights, and guns, connect with godless, clinched-fist-tattoo, guys.
You seem to have a pretty good grasp of comparative U.S. and European politics, but maybe there’s a pattern that you’re underestimating. Throughout history, leaders have used music to lull young people into a sense of security and euphoria. They’ve used artists to create the illusion that they can run a country that keeps all the good and wipes out all the bad. Think Zurich 1916. Think artists getting behind guys like Lenin and Trotsky. Think of pop culture’s role in the Arab Spring. The youth rises up, power structures crumble, and worse leaders are inserted.
America, on the other hand, does not rely on leaders — we rely on the individual. Our country was built on the principles of mercy, justice, and charity — we ultimately believe that man left alone is good. That is a primary reason I disagree with Chomsky and others that you’ve touted.
American Libertarians understand that smaller government gives people freedom — the freedom to earn or lose, eat or starve, own or sell. The potential for wild success and happiness is tempered by an equal chance of failure. And it is all up to the individual to take control of their destiny.
This has been a debate since the founding of America, one that has often gotten confused. Even during the revolution — a period filled with the greatest minds to ever discuss the idea of freedom — there were the divisions that continue today. Robespierre or George Washington. OWS or the TEA Party.
Thomas Paine didn’t see the difference at first either — sometimes the difference is too subtle.
Yet the question is an easy one: Do you believe man can rule himself? Or does he need someone ruling over him to force him to be good and charitable?
That is the fundamental divide and everything else follows. Even though faith was important to our American patriots none of them forced Paine to believe. He chose his course and in the end is remembered as a critical patriot in establishing man’s first real freedom.
They understood that we don’t all have to be in the same boat. But rather, focused on the star chart: Are you headed toward freedom or despotism?
The power that American Libertarians like me want to pull down is power that limits the individuals right to roam and create.
Matthew, I realize that converts are pretty hard to come by when the stakes are so high and the spotlight so bright, but I thank you for singing words that resonate with man in his struggle to be free.
I wish I could leave well enough alone and just be quiet…
…but I’ve had recurring nightmares that I was loved for who I am and missed the opportunity to be a better man.
Good luck on the new record.